In an­cient Greek his­tory and mythol­ogy, Del­phi was re­ferred to as the ge­o­graph­i­cal cen­ter of the world, its navel. Ac­cord­ing to the an­cient Greek myth, Zeus set two ea­gles free to find the cen­ter of the world. They soared through the skies west­ward and east­ward and their paths crossed in Del­phi.

From the 11th to 9th cen­tury B.C., the wor­ship of Apollo was es­tab­lished in Del­phi. Ac­cord­ing to the myth, Apollo took up res­i­dence there af­ter he slew the dragon-like Python, which guarded the Earth god­dess’s or­a­cle. Af­ter his sub­li­ma­tion, Apollo re­turned to Del­phi and es­tab­lished his wor­ship at the or­a­cle which ex­ists in his honor to this day.

Apollo, the god of pu­rifi­ca­tion and div­ina­tion, es­tab­lished the ini­tial forms of his faith at Del­phi. He taught peo­ple the im­por­tance of «measure» and be­came the most moral and peace­ful ex­pres­sion of the Greek spirit and cul­ture. At the renowned Or­a­cle of Del­phi, the Gods’ will was dic­tated through the Priest­ess Pythia.

Dur­ing the 8th and 7th cen­turies B.C., the ar­eas of the sa­cred precinct of Del­phi were con­fig­ured. To­ward the end of the 7th cen­tury B.C., the first two stone tem­ples were built, ded­i­cated to Apollo and Athina. At the be­gin­ning of the 6th cen­tury B.C., Del­phi joined the Am­ph­ic­ty­ony, a union of city-states with com­mon po­lit­i­cal goals, which served to pro­tect the tem­ple from con­quest.

In time, the Del­phic Am­ph­ic­ty­ony at­tained ju­ris­dic­tion over the tem­ple of Apollo and in 528 B.C. once again or­ga­nized the Pythian Games, which took place every four years in honor of Apollo, to com­mem­o­rate the god’s vic­tory against Python.

Through the Am­ph­ic­ty­onic Coun­cil, Del­phi com­mu­ni­cated the ideals of friend­ship, broth­er­hood and peace­ful co­ex­is­tence of all peo­ple. These ideals have re­mained cen­tral to what is to­day re­ferred to as the Del­phic Ideal. From the 6th to the 4th cen­tury B.C., the sanc­tu­ary at Del­phi thrived. The tem­ple was dec­o­rated with of­fer­ings and ded­i­ca­tions to Apollo from Greek cities and in­di­vid­u­als. Pil­grims would ar­rive from all over the an­cient world to ask for con­sul­ta­tion and prophecy for im­por­tant is­sues of state and for per­sonal mat­ters. The pil­grims would wash them­selves clean at the Kastalia Spring, pay a kind of tax (the pelanon) and sac­ri­fice an an­i­mal at the al­tar of Apollo.

Apollo’s prophe­cies were ex­pressed by Pythia and then de­ci­phered by Apollo’s priests. The rit­ual’s cer­e­mony took its fi­nal form dur­ing the 6th cen­tury B.C. and re­mained in­tact un­til the time of Hadrian (2nd cen­tury B.C.). Dur­ing the time of its pros­per­ity, the Or­a­cle at Del­phi was not just a re­li­gious cen­ter. It also ex­erted po­lit­i­cal in­flu­ence, and of­ten played an im­por­tant part in po­lit­i­cal de­vel­op­ments in Greece.

Dur­ing its long his­tory the Or­a­cle at Del­phi has wit­nessed nat­ural dis­as­ters from fire and rock-slides (of the Faidri­ade Stones) to hos­tile at­tacks and loot­ing of its trea­sures. Dur­ing the Hel­lenis­tic years, the po­lit­i­cal in­flu­ence of the Or­a­cle di­min­ished. How­ever, its grandeur and pres­tige re­mained al­most in­tact long af­ter­wards. Ro­man em­per­ors and of­fi­cers were at times sup­port­ive of the site’s up­keep­ing and at other times played a part in its de­cline. Dur­ing the 2nd cen­tury A.D., one of the ear­li­est Greek travel writ­ers Pau­sa­nias vis­ited Del­phi and in his book «Fo­cika» left an im­por­tant de­tailed ac­count of all the mon­u­ments he ob­served in the area as well as the myths at­tached to them.

As Chris­tian­ity pre­vailed and idol­a­try was quashed, Del­phi be­gan to de­cline. The sanc­tu­ary was even­tu­ally aban­doned. It is said that Pythia de­liv­ered her fi­nal prophecy to the em­peror Ju­lian the Apos­tate (361 – 363 A.D.) who had at­tempted to re­vive the Or­a­cle.

Tell the em­peror that my hall has fallen to the ground.
Phoi­bos no longer has his house,
nor his man­tic bay,
nor his prophetic spring;
the wa­ter has dried up.

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